Is Nausea A Sign Of Labor?
Doctors weigh in.
In your third trimester of pregnancy, the last thing you need to feel is nauseous. By this point, your back likely hurts, your ankles might be swollen, you’re probably peeing every five minutes. So if you suddenly feel sick to your stomach you might wonder: Am I going into labor?
While a myriad of symptoms are indicative of labor, nausea itself is not one of them Dr. Scott Sullivan, Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Ob/Gyn at the Medical University of South Carolina, tells Romper. “It is not what I would say is a reliable indicator,” says Dr. Sullivan.
Nausea Is a Common Part of Pregnancy
Nausea is a very common side effect at the beginning of pregnancy, and commonly referred to as morning sickness. For some women it may continue into the second trimester of pregnancy too, but, Dr. Sullivan says, by the third trimester, it typically goes away.
That said, there’s a small percentage of pregnant women — .3–2% — for whom severe nausea continues throughout the pregnancy. They suffer from what’s called Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a disorder characterized by “excessive vomiting starting before the end of the 22nd week of gestation,” according to a study published in Autonomic neuroscience journal. The rare condition was recently amplified by comedian Amy Schumer who suffered from HG through the pregnancy of her son Gene and raised awareness for the condition with a revealing documentary called Expecting Amy.
However, more often than not, for those who do experience nausea late in their pregnancy, it’s not a sign of labor, but rather the combination of all the action happening in a woman’s body.
“Having a seven pound human in your abdomen, kicking your liver, your gallbladder, laying on your intestines at your stomach means a lot of people will lose their appetite or they have early satiety build up, meaning they might fill up with two bites or have severe heartburn,” explains Dr. Sullivan. “In fact, some people start having nausea and vomiting because of this.”
So you’re not about to deliver a baby, you’re just feeling sick because of the large child inside of you.
Nausea Is Often Experienced During Labor
Incidentally, though not a sign of labor, nausea does often occur during labor. Vomiting can be a common side effect in the midst of delivery.
“It’s a common thing in active labor when people really know they’re in labor,” says Mary Lou Kopas, chief of midwifery at the University of Washington Medical Center. In fact, she says many women will vomit between contractions, sometimes once, sometimes often as labor pains swell. But again, Kopas agrees with Dr. Sullivan that nausea in the days leading up to a delivery date is not an indication of oncoming labor, rather a reaction to it.
What To Do If You Experience Late Stage Nausea
So what should a pregnant woman do if she experiences sudden nausea later in pregnancy? “New onset nausea can be normal, but it can also be an indication of some unusual or rare diseases in pregnancy that are potentially dangerous,” says Kopas. “So it might be something to report. If you haven’t been nauseous in months and you suddenly feel sick, it might be time to do some tests.”
Dr. Sullivan and Kopas recommend reaching out to a medical provider with any concerns.
How To Treat Nausea
If you’re not very concerned about your nausea, just irritated by it, then there are ways to treat it, says Kopas. “Eat something bland. Ginger helps. Don’t go too long between eating,” she advises. “Have small frequent meals.”
She adds that sometimes heartburn can contribute to nausea. For that, it’s fine for women to take an antacid, Kopas says. And avoid trigger foods that might cause heartburn that could contribute to nausea.
Dr. Sullivan also recommends frequent, bland meals and drinking lots of water as a means to avoid nausea. “Of course, there are people for whom that doesn't cut it. “We have some medication we can give people then.”
Ultimately, pregnant women should try to listen to their bodies. If something feels off or nausea begins to be concerning, contact a provider.
Bustos, M., Venkataramanan, R., & Caritis, S. (2017). Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy - What's new?. Autonomic neuroscience : basic & clinical, 202, 62–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2016.05.002
Dr. Scott Sullivan, Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Ob/Gyn at the Medical University of South Carolina
Mary Lou Kopas, chief of midwifery at the University of Washington Medical Center
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